Weekend Projects

This weekend was a very busy one.  On Friday, we met up with friends for dinner at Alicia’s, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants and had their Steak Chipotle with grilled onions and guacamole (instead of rice and beans) and as always, it was fantastic.  But before we went out for dinner, I had some time to kill and about 6 egg yolks in the fridge left over from the “tortillas” we made for the shrimp tacos.  What better way to use up egg yolks than to make ice cream??

IMG_1409So off I went to my vast archives of saved recipes I’d like to try and ended up landing on this Paleo Coconut Vanilla Ice Cream from Paleo Leap.  It was actually fairly easy to put together since I also had some leftover coconut milk in the fridge, and with 6 eggs, I needed to make a recipe and a half to use up my eggs.  I used the Tahitian vanilla beans that E.J. gets in bulk to make our homemade vanilla extract every few years, honey to sweeten it, and added some dairy free chocolate chips at the very end of the churn in my ice cream maker.  The result was smooth and tasty – albeit with a little bit of a coconut overtone which is a little strange at first but is much better after the 2nd or 3rd bite.

On Saturday, we went to the Texas Wine and Art Festival in Old Town Spring, where I found some wonderful flavors from Texas wineries I haven’t visited yet, and then E.J. and I went up to the mall to take our wedding rings to be resized.  We’ve been waiting to get closer to our goal weights to make sure we have them sized correctly, and I’m pretty sure my fingers are as small as they’re going to be – it’s the knuckle that’s the biggest part now.  After some additional shopping and walking around, we ended the evening at Peli Peli for some fantastic South African cuisine, and as always it was delicious.

For Sunday Cookday, we had friends over for some friendly tabletop games, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to spend in the kitchen on meals for the week.  To make it easy, we quartered two whole chickens, sprinkled the pieces with Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming spice blend, and popped them in the smoker with pecan wood for 4 hours.   I think I’ve decided smoking is the absolute best cooking method for chicken because you get a nice crispy and flavorful skin with a juicy and tender inside that’s not even close to being dry.  Yum!  I’ve got one of the leg quarters packed for lunch today.

IMG_1402.JPGI also made another recipe that we tried back in the early days of our Paleo journey for a spicy twist on meatloaf.  This Bacon Chorizo Chipotle Smothered Meatloaf from PaleOMG is simple, really tasty, and fantastic for packed lunches, so I made 2 loaves of it, some roasted cabbage (leftover from the shrimp tacos) and some roasted sweet potato bites, and voila, packed lunches for the week with minimal prep and cleanup.

E.J. and I have both had a lot of small victories with the weightloss lately – I’m now down into size 10’s (I started in 18W in September last year) and E.J.’s 36 pants are starting to get loose.  We’ve got vacation coming up in 2 weeks, so we hope we don’t slide out of our pattern too much, but if everything goes well, we should both be hitting our weight goals sometime in the summer months.  I never would have believed we could do it, but here we are.  Looking good and feeling great!

Shrimp Taco Tuesday

unnamed (2)When E.J. was in the Marines, he was stationed out in California for a number of years, and has a soft spot for Baja cuisine.  On our very first trip together, he took me out to SoCal and introduced me to fish tacos (which seemed like a very strange concept at the time).  After tasting Rubio’s, I was hooked, and fortunately a few places around Houston have started serving fish & shrimp tacos in the last 10 years.

For last night’s meal, I found inspiration from this Shrimp Taco Recipe from Paleo Grubs.  I used almond flour instead of coconut flour in the tortilla but otherwise followed the tortilla instructions exactly. The tortilla’s came out pliable but sturdy – at least as good as the standard corn tortillas that typically are served.

For the shrimp, I simply melted a tablespoon of butter in a skillet (you can use ghee if preferred), added the shrimp and then about 2 tbsp of garlic powder, 1 tsp onion salt, 1 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp ancho chili powder.  Mix and cook until shrimp are pink.

The cauliflower had a similar spice treatment, first I drizzled roasted garlic olive oil over the florets, then tossed them in about 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp onion powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ancho chili powder, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Then oven roast in a pan (or lined cookie sheet) for about 25 mins.

Finally, because the real thing always has a good baja sauce, I threw together a paleo version that went something like this:

  • 1/3 cup paleo mayo 
  • 2 tbsp almond milk
  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder

Whisk everything together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

IMG_1538For taco toppings we had limes (for drizzling over the shrimp), shredded cabbage, finely diced onions, cilantro, avocado slices, and the baja sauce.

Yum!

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Leftovers

I mentioned in my last post that we were living on leftovers last week, and some of that is still happening this week.  It’s easy to get bored with leftovers, especially when it’s just a bunch of meat, and this calls for a little creativity.  After all, the go-to strategy for leftovers is typically sandwiches, but with bread being banished from the diet, this gets a little more challenging.

First, keep in mind that the freezer is your friend.  When faced with a ton of leftover meats, be honest about how many meals you think you’ll be able to stand with it in the short term and put the rest in the freezer.  You never know when you’ll need something quick to thaw and eat on a day when you don’t have time to cook, and you’ll be grateful that it’s there to keep you from hitting a drive-through.

Then, start looking online for paleo recipes similar to the one you made or that use the meat as an ingredient.  Many times you can find casseroles, salads, and stuffings that use the meat and can help mix things up to avoid boredom.  We still had some pulled pork in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I found this gem on Paleo Leap over the weekend and adapted it for our dinner last night.  The result was fantastic, and we got to thoroughly enjoy another pulled pork meal without having to wait an hour to eat.

Incidentally, baked sweet potatoes are pretty quick if you let the microwave help the process.  All I did was poke holes in the potatoes with a fork (2 potatoes), put them in the microwave for about 15 minutes (the time it took for the oven to preheat), and then in the oven for another 20 while the asparagus roasted.  Voila!

Grab-and-Go

It’s been an eventful week, though I haven’t been posting much since Easter because we were pretty much living on leftovers the whole time.  E.J. started a new job last week which has him commuting again, so now both of us need quick grab-and-go lunches that we can heat up easily at work.  I knew I wanted to make more of our favorite chili, but I also wanted to try some new ideas out that would be easily portable.

Since E.J. loved the lemon cake so much last week and it didn’t seem to impede his weightloss progress too much, I decided to try this Banana and Blueberry bread recipe from Little Green Spoon.

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Super moist banana & blueberry bread

The bread is moist and has a lovely texture without being overly sweet.  I used our local honey in it, and it’s really hard to eat just one slice… the only challenge I had was that the outside of the loaf got pretty dark while the inside was only barely cooked through, and I struggled to get it out of the pan having used just coconut spray.  In the future, I might dust it with a little coconut flour also to help it come out easier.

 

The other new recipe I tried this week was this Awesome Paleo Lasagna from Paleo Newbie.   E.J. was jonesing for some Italian food and wanted lasagna, which initially sounds like it would be really hard to do… no pasta & no ricotta – what’s a paleo chef to do?  Well, you saw I’ve already substituted zucchini or eggplant for noodles, so that’s not too hard, but if you look for ricotta substitutes online it looks like the answer is soaked cashews.  This is something I’ve seen in several other recipes, and I admit it just seemed weird.  How can blended up cashews taste anything like cheese?  But I have to admit, when you blend up the cashews in this recipe with the spices and spinach, you really do get something that tastes a lot like ricotta.IMG_1534

And when you layer that in with an amazing meat sauce (I used fresh herbs from my garden instead of the dried ones called for and it really does make it superb) you get a flavor that mirrors the real deal – all of the happy taste buds with none of the guilt.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!

I divided the pan up into individual containers and now E.J. and I have pre-packed lunches for the week.  Happy Cook Day!!

Paleo Easter

At Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, my strategy was to make all the favorites for everyone, and then make some separate dishes that were paleo for E.J. and I.  The result is a lot of extra work, a bunch of leftovers we can’t eat, and a feeling like we’re missing out on something and/or giving into the temptation.

So for Easter, I decided to try to make the meal as compliant as I could, which meant looking for recognizable dishes with an alternate preparation.  Here’s how the menu went:

Appetizers:

  • Deviled Eggs – ok, I didn’t go compliant on these and used Miracle Whip.  This was one of the concessions I made, only because I’ve tried to make them with avocado oil mayo, and it’s just not as good.
  • Italian Style Zucchini Rolls – Oddly enough, these turned out to be the star of the show.  They’re fairly simple to make (I used sherry balsamic vinegar for the zucchini) and everyone loved the flavors.  I made these right before everyone arrived, and if I had it to do again, I would have done them the night before.  I think they would have kept just fine.  They were technically primal since I used goat cheese, but they were very good.

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Main Course:

  • Ham – I tried to find one that didn’t have any sugar, but struck out and settled on one that had less.
  • Stuffed Mushrooms – These were also very well received and we didn’t really miss the breadcrumbs or cheese that normally would go in a recipe like this.
  • Sweet Potato Casserole – This was the other star of the show.  I made some mashed sweet potatoes just with butter and salt for the goody two-shoes (like E.J.) and made the casserole for the rest of us that like them candied.  They were well received by all.
  • Green Bean Casserole – I wasn’t as impressed with this as I had hoped.  I used coconut milk to keep it paleo, but missed the creaminess that comes from the dairy.  I might try another approach altogether next time rather than trying to stay close to the original.  It was also VERY time consuming, and I’d like to find something a little quicker and easier
  • Paleo Rolls – These turned out very well, and my guests were pleasantly surprised by the taste.  Very satisfying, and I was able to limit my portion to 1.   They have lots of tapioca flour so they’re not exactly low-carb, but they were a fair alternative to the standard butter rolls I also had available.

Also on the table was a salad and honeyed carrots provided by our good friend Anita (also doing the Paleo thing with her husband)

Dessert

  • Strawberry (and Blueberry Pie) – I threw some blueberries into this recipe, but otherwise stayed true to it.  The pie turned out ok, but the crust was very hard.  I think next time I’ll try a honey graham crust for a paleo pie and see how that goes.
  • Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (Against All Grain) – this turned out pretty well.  E.J. thinks its awesome, while I would rate it OK.  It’s just not as bright and sweet as my old recipe, but it’s still good.

 

Long Weekend

We had a lovely Easter holiday weekend with lots of activity to keep us moving.  We took Buddy to a dog park for the first time this weekend (he’s about 7 months old) and we were pleasantly surprised at how well behaved he was – no crazy barking or aggression, just happy puppy making friends and following the other dogs around.  We ended up going to 2 different parks over the holiday, and enjoyed both as the weather was fantastic with clear skies and highs in the upper 70s.

On Friday we got in the car and headed out to Austin to find bluebonnets, and found a beautiful patch off the beaten path when we were rerouted for traffic.  I haven’t taken pictures with bluebonnets since I was a little kid, and it was a great excuse for a road trip.  In Austin, we looked for paleo friendly restaurants and settled on Wholly Cow, a burger joint which features all grass-fed meats.  They have a burger called a Fit Cross which uses portobello mushrooms as the “buns” and features grilled onions and mustard.  I added avocado to mine, and it was very good.  We added a side of sweet potato fries to the burger and it was a satisfying, albeit messy meal.

On the way home we stopped in Giddings and visited a store called Blast from the Past which was really interesting and full of vintage clothing from a dozen different eras.  Just for fun, I dressed up in a flapper outfit, and not only did it fit, it looked really good.  I remember a time not so long ago when I hated trying on clothes, but now I find it to be wonderfully entertaining.

Saturday was spent cleaning and cooking and generally getting ready for the big meal on Sunday afternoon.  I wanted to do as much as I could to make the meal fully paleo-compliant, so that meant lots of extra steps and prep work.  I’ll post later today with the full Easter menu and share the reviews of each item.